How is designing an art quilt like playing with legos?

Last time we talked about the initial stages of beginning a new original art quilt.  In this post, I will share one of my pieces I wrote 5 years ago on the subject of the elements of design and how to use them in your work. Yes I have been writing and learning and teaching this stuff for many years!

All of nature has design. It has a structure, and certain look. Take a pine cone for example.

Why are the seeds arranged a certain way, and why is it pleasant to look at? I’m no biologist, but I see a still see a pattern and an underlying structure there.  That is what all good art work has too. As an artist, you need to know what you are doing from a design standpoint. A piece of art that has an organizing structure to it will always be more commanding than just stuff thrown together haphazardly. 

So now let’s talk about legos. Legos are like the elements of design- building blocks, if you will. Here is the article I wrote 5 years ago:

A brief Introduction: When my youngest daughter was a little girl, her favorite toy was a huge box of legos. She would dump out that box on the floor so she could find just the right size and shape she was looking for. She would play with her legos creating unusual houses, buildings or other fantasy structures. This went on for many years. Sadly, those days are gone now, but I remember them fondly. We art quilters are a bit like her, with our stash of fabrics, threads and tools. This self critique tool will help make sense of all the confusing bits and pieces that go into making a powerful and moving art quilt. Much like my daughter did intuitively with her legos!

Speaking of elements, here they are, these are your legos:

  • Line
  • Shape
  • Value
  • Color
  • Pattern
  • Texture 

So… do you know if your art work is well designed? By learning the various parts and overall principles of design and composition, you will be able to take the guesswork out of this process.

Sound boring? Ah, but it.s actually very fun, if you let go of your fear of making mistakes. Think of yourself as a grownup kid playing with a box of legos, er, fabric!

Let’s start with 3 important design principles that every artist should use. They are:




Balance breaks down into 4 types: symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, and overall.

Symmetrical: both sides of the composition are exactly the same

Asymmetrical: both sides of the composition are not the same, but still appear to be visually balanced.

Radial: the composition appears to radiate from a central point, like a wheel.

Overall: the composition has a scattered appearance, like in a grid.

Generally, we all look for balance.  In art, it’s the visual weight or how heavy or light the elements appear. Unity happens when all the elements look as though they belong together, even though they may not be the same.  Variety is what helps move the eye around the piece and can help create an area of emphasis. Think of a seesaw with chaos on one end and boredom on the other. You want just enough variety of your elements, to prevent boredom, but not so much that your piece is confusing and chaotic. Aim for that sweet spot in the middle to balance the seesaw!

And here are you helpers to create balance, unity and variety: i.e. the ways we use the elements of design

  • Repetition
  • Rhythm
  • Perspective
  • Proximity
  • Proportion (relative size)
  • Contrast
  • Placement
  • Complexity
  • Implied Line /Continuation (proximity of objects seem to create an implied line)


BALANCE Helpers:

CONTRAST – of color, value, proximity, intensity of color, textures, lines, etc. Manipulation of the visual weight of these elements create different types of balance.

UNITY Helpers:

REPETITION– of shapes, lines, colors, values, patterns, textures, rhythms. Using similar elements more than once creates unity.
PROXIMITY– of elements grouped near each other helps to unify. CONTINUATION– implied lines between elements near each other also helps unify.

VARIETY Helpers: Change in some way: the size, shape, values, colors, intensity of colors, line directions, line types, complexity, texture, placement of objects, make these different from the other elements in some way. This will automatically create a focal point or some kind of contrast, an area of interest that catches the eye.


Please feel free to use this material for your own work, but do not reproduce it, thank you.

Now, are you going to master this material just by reading  it? Heck no, but it’s a start!  I recommend playing with small pieces and try to make some art quilts that show different kinds of balance. See if you can create your own work just using a few elements of design, or a few abstract shapes. This is what got me started many years ago- playing with it in the studio. There are also many great art quilting books on the subject, like Elizabeth Barton’s Inspired to Design. Also, Lyric Kinard teaches several online classes on the subject. I no longer teach my classes online, but I can and do teach for groups and privately on the subject if you need more one on one help. (See below). 

Thanks for reading this rather long post, and I hope it helped you understand the design aspect of creating an art quilt a little bit better…

Next post I will give some visual examples of the principles of design and types of balance.

If you need help with your quilting project, just remember I am available for 1 hour sessions by video chat or in person. Just shoot me an email and we can set up a time:

If you are or if you know the program chair for your guild, please review my class selections ( ) and book me for your guild. I am still available for some dates this year or next.
Permission to duplicate: You certainly can use this blog, just be sure to credit me and include this link, Roxane Lessa.

Don’t be shy! Come and join my:

My New Facebook Group

Oh and before I forget- I have a new Facebook Group called Joyful Art Quilting. You can head on over there to discuss your projects in more detail and see what others are up to.  It’s a fun, non-judgmental place to meet and share.  Here’s the link to go join the group:


If you want to take a class with me- CALL ME at 919-602-2260.   I can teach for a small group of your friends, like I did a while back for my friend Joyce Marks and her quilting buddies.  We had a blast and I tailored the classes to her group’s interests.

And you can always take an online class with me- see below!



Here’s what one guild VP had to say recently:

I’m usually Johnny on the Spot but missed the boat last week re these BIG THANKS.  Loved your presentation. Heard very positive and supportive remarks from the guests…thank you again for the well-defined and creative presentation.  Look forward to seeing you again. 


Here’s a link to my contract with current lecture and class rates:  Contract

My Pinterest: You can take a look at my pins, which are organized on different “boards” HERE.

About RoxaneRoxane-Web-Images-007

Roxane is a full time studio textile artist, teacher, and author, with two girls, who are both growing up too fast!  She recently appeared on Quilting Arts TV, and has taught at the Houston quilt show.  She is also a BERNINA ambassador. Her work is in several private collections and she loves doing custom commissions.  For more info go to

Permission to duplicate: You certainly can use this blog, just be sure to credit me and include this link, Roxane Lessa. Hey, if you like this blog, please hit the FB or Twitter icon in the top right sidebar and share with others! That’s why they are there…..:)

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